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Workplace Behaviour Champions: FAQs for trainees

This page provides answers to frequently asked questions about the role of our Workplace Behaviour Champions.

The Champions are part of our improving workplace behaviours project to address undermining and bullying behaviours experienced by O&G trainees in the workplace.

Am I being undermined and/or bullied?

Bullying is ‘persistent behaviour that is intimidating, degrading, offensive or malicious and undermines the self-esteem of the recipient.’ Undermining is usually taken to mean ‘lowering someone’s confidence or self-esteem’. If you’re concerned that an individual or organisation is involved in any of the following, it’s considered bullying:

  • Persistent and deliberate belittling or humiliation
  • Shouting, threatening or insulting behaviour
  • Persistently and unfairly singling out an individual for unreasonable duties, or for duties with no educational value
  • Persistently and unfairly preventing access to the normal educational events or opportunities associated with the programme
  • Marginalising trainees without good reason, so that they’re unable to carry out their jobs and make progress in their training

This list isn’t exhaustive. If you’re questioning whether you’re experiencing bullying or undermining, you can always seek guidance.

What bullying and undermining is not

There’s a fine line between giving constructive, objective and useful feedback (for example during and after a surgical procedure) and giving embarrassing, intimidating feedback which can lower the self-esteem of a trainee. What one person finds embarrassing, another may not.

However, as a trainee you shouldn’t be put off reporting if you feel you’ve been subjected to this type of behaviour. If you feel able, the best action is to discuss this with the person giving you the feedback, but we recognise that sometimes this may be difficult. Therefore, you now have the opportunity to discuss this with a Workplace Behaviour Champion.

What’s a Workplace Behaviour Champion?

The Champion is most likely to be a consultant who doesn’t work at your hospital. However, they will know your training region well. They will have contact with College Tutors and Educational Supervisors who work at each unit in your region.

By virtue of the fact that they have taken on this voluntary role, they are passionate about eliminating undermining behaviour from the workplace. They have appropriate knowledge, skills and training to help resolve these problems. Many have been involved in dealing with this behaviour within their own hospitals. Above all, they’re approachable, humane and kind listeners who can act as a voice and advocate for you as a trainee.

What’s their role?

The Champion is a point of contact, usually after you’ve failed to resolve your problems locally. However, they are happy to speak to you informally for independent advice if you don’t have the confidence to raise an issue within your hospital.

If you feel the bullying is so widespread and part of the culture that you can’t report it to anyone in your department, you can contact Human Resources or the Postgraduate Dean/Director of Medical Education for your hospital. The Champion can offer you support while you do this.

The Champion will listen to you, record details about the issues and listen to your perspective. If you have any documentary evidence, such as emails, they might ask to see these. The process must be fair and transparent, and will reveal any problems that are present. Your report will be kept confidential and information will only be released with your consent. 

Will my information be shared with anyone?

This depends on what’s discussed. It’s every doctor’s duty to report any practice which is deemed unsafe, that puts patients’ health or lives at risk or is illegal. If you want to report undermining or bullying but have none of these concerns, the information will only be released with your prior consent.

The Champion may choose to speak to others involved about what you report, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they will reveal your identity. Your information is likely to be shared with a combination of the Training Programme Director, Head of School, Postgraduate Dean and, if necessary, Royal College representatives. In certain circumstances, the clinical managerial lead, Director of Medical Education or Medical Director in your hospital may be informed. These are the people who can help you, but this wouldn’t occur without your consent.

Workplace Behaviour Champions will be asked to report anonymised data regarding the number of contacts and the type of issues that have been discussed to both the school board and the RCOG network. This is to monitor what’s happening in your region and how we’re progressing nationally in addressing these issues more effectively. No individual data will be reported.

What’s not included in their role?

Champions aren’t agony aunts: they’re available for genuine support and advice, and for you to use their skills and experience in managing these types of issues. They aren’t legal representatives. It’s also not their responsibility to conduct a full investigation of your issues. They will advise you if they think this is appropriate and help steer you through the process. Every hospital has bullying and harassment policies which you can access to give you more information about local processes and support.

Champions aren’t there to resolve problems surrounding training and curriculum delivery within your hospital. This is the role of the College Tutor and Training Programme Director.

If I feel I’m being subjected to bullying and undermining behaviour, what can I do?

We always encourage you to seek a local resolution in the first instance. You should contact your Educational Supervisor or the College Tutor. This has been shown to be most effective for all involved, as it’s best to address these issues as soon as they arise. Sometimes there can be miscommunication, a lack of understanding or personality conflicts and the local support structures can help you resolve these issues quickly.

There may be other people who you can talk to who can help. These may include the Clinical Director of your department, the Head of Midwifery or the Matron for women’s health/gynaecology in your hospital. These people are often not directly involved in your training but can support you and take the issues further within the department. If you feel more comfortable talking to a trainee, every unit should have a local faculty group trainee representative and every training region has a national trainee representative who you can contact. 

As above, it’s possible that escalation to the Medical Director and Director of Medical Education for your hospital, Training Programme Director for your region and your Head of School or Postgraduate Dean is indicated. Again, these are most likely outsiders to the situation and so can help you.

I feel low and I can’t do my job properly – what can I do?

You must speak to someone immediately. Any of the individuals mentioned above would be appropriate under these circumstances, so choose someone locally who you feel comfortable with or contact your Champion. If you feel very low, you may need clinical help from occupational health and from your general practitioner.

It’s important not to compound problems by leaving things too late and causing harm to yourself or others, including patients and colleagues. There may be relatively minor incidents occurring more frequently at work, such as forgetting something important such as following up results. You may be agitated, lack concentration, not be sleeping well, be nervous or low in mood, or have early morning wakening and be having problems with your home life as a result. If this is the case, you must seek professional help. It may be best at this stage to stop work until you have help in place.

Who’s the Workplace Behaviour Champion for my training region and how do I contact them?

You can ask your College Tutor or go to the Workplace Behaviour Champions contacts page. If you work in the same unit as your local Champion and find external support more appropriate, you can contact Champions from neighbouring schools/deaneries.

I’m afraid to report the behaviour as it will affect my career – what can I do?

If you’re experiencing these problems, the likelihood is that other trainees before you, and those after you, will have a similar experience. It’s important to eradicate this behaviour before it escalates. It’s important that you contact any of the named individuals above for advice to try and address this situation as early as possible. It doesn’t have to be a formal process initially and can often be resolved before it reaches the formal stage.

Reporting will not prejudice your ARCP outcome or any aspect of your professional assessment. If you feel this is the case, e.g. the consultant in question is your Educational Supervisor or is sitting on your ARCP panel, make this known to the Head of School. However, given that the ARCP is a panel decision, one person should not prejudice the outcome. In most cases a conscious decision would be made to remove a consultant from an ARCP panel if there is any question regarding undermining.

If you feel that your outcome has been prejudiced, you must raise this immediately with your Head of School or Training Programme Director or the lay member on the day at your ARCP, or as soon after as possible.

What happens when I contact the Champion?

The Champion will aim to meet up with you, but this may not always be possible geographically and taking into account the busy work patterns of both you and the Champion. A phone conversation can be very helpful in the first instance. However, if you’re off work or if the behaviour is extreme, the Champion will be sure to meet you.

Details of the meeting will be written down and kept in a safe place. The Champion will then agree with you what will happen moving forward. The Champion may agree with you that further information is needed. It’s not within their remit to undertake a full investigation themselves but, if you both agree this is required, they will know who to contact and how to set this in motion. They may also discuss some support for you personally in how to deal with the situation more effectively.

I just want advice and don’t know if I wish to make a formal complaint against an individual or organisation. What can I do?

You’re not alone and shouldn’t feel frightened to speak out. There are lots of sources of advice and support and the Workplace Behaviour Champions will be happy to help. This is why they took on the role.

The RCOG will be producing a toolkit in conjunction with the Royal College of Midwives which will soon be available as guidance for individuals, departments and hospitals to use. Health Education London produced a helpful document and is a useful reference point.

Similarly, there are videos and suggestions on StratOG which you might find helpful.

Elsewhere on the site

Advice and support for trainees
Information and resources to help support trainees throughout their training
Resources and support for trainers
Useful resources to help trainers deliver the specialty training programme in O&G